$2500 annual tax credit to move into the city?

If you’ve read this morning’s Sun, you’ve seen the article entitled, “Mayor offers plan to provide $2,500 annual tax credit to city police, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies.”

At present, only 28% of our Police and 36% of our Firefighters live in the city. The other 72% and 64% know better. After what our mostly heroic Policemen and -women see and deal with every day, it’s surprising any of them live here.

Needless to say, having a Policeman living on your block, his/her patrol car parked out front overnight, would make everyone safer. Even if it’s just an optical illusion, it would make people feel better. And that’s important.

Apparently, the Mayor doesn’t have the legal right to require residency as a condition of employment. I say “apparently” because that woman standing to the Mayor’s left (our right) in the featured image is Senator Catherine Pugh, herself a candidate to replace Mayor Rawlings-Blake. Senator Pugh – who represents Baltimore’s District 40 and who is the Senate Majority leader in Annapolis – is arguably the most effective state legislator in recent history. If Senator Pugh isn’t pushing to have the state allow a residency requirement, it’s probably not possible.

So the Mayor is offering Police and Firefighters who live in the suburbs a $2500 annual tax credit if they buy a home in the city. That’s $2500 on top of the one-time $5000 already available for down payment assistance. Seems impressive, but is it?

Let’s ask ourselves why these public servants live in the suburbs in the first place. Here, in no particular order, is our list of the reasons why…

  • More housing for their money in better neighborhoods.
  • Safer neighborhoods in which to raise their children.
  • Much better schools for their children to attend.
  • More attractive, more pleasant community environment.
  • More extensive, more convenient suburban shopping.
  • Superior public services.
  • Better maintained infrastructure.

Other than the commute, what’s not to like?

First, the city offered these public servants $5000, one-time only to subsidize their down payments. Okay, that didn’t work. Now the Mayor is upping the ante by raising their disposable income pay by $2500 per year. That’s the equivalent of an average of just over $200 per month. Is that going to work? In addition to risking your life everyday you’re on the job, would you give up all those benefits for your family just to do the city a favor – for another $200 per month, less than $7 per day?

Just how would that conversation go?

“Honey, I’ve decided that we should move to the city where it’s less safe and the schools are poor.”

“Are you nuts?” he/she responds with alarm.

“Well, heck, they’re giving us $7 more disposable income a day! What’s your problem?”

If you’re a Police Officer or Firefighter, is that really a conversation you’re going to have with your spouse? Not really.

As we see it, the city only has two choices.

  • We can pay our Police and Firefighters significantly more if they live in the city – significantly more than $2500 per year, before taxes. Maybe $10,000 more a year will do it, but we don’t know? How much is the extra Police presence worth to the city, versus how much are all those benefits worth to the Police Officer and his or her family?
  • And/or we can let them pick from any number of vacant and abandoned city owned residences and give them to the Officers who move here – for free. These properties aren’t currently paying any taxes. Not only would you be repopulating the city with Baltimore’s finest, we’d be making substantial improvements to neighborhoods that need all the help they can get.

Unfortunately, as tempting as both these more aggressive offers may be, they still might not work except maybe for single or married public servants without children. The children really are the key, aren’t they? Because there’s no putting a price on their safety, education and the quality of their lives, is there?

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